Okay, I know many of my students, former and current, come here looking for writing tips, for bits of inspiration on the writing life. And they leave disappointed because I barely ever freaking post here and so it’s a cold hard breeze blowing through this abandoned meadow of a blog. Perhaps I put too much pressure on myself. I mean, really, I know almost nothing about writing except that to write one must write and not just gabber on and on endlessly about planning to write. And read. One must read. So those are my sage tidbits, har har, for those who want to write. That’s the writing advice from this obscure literary fiction writer eking out a living in a place no one has ever heard of.
So onward to important things, which might be of interest to those who want to write (and those who don’t): cars.
Now why might this be of benefit to someone who wants to write? Because, as I yammer on in my classes, detail is critical, and if you don’t know the details of your own frickin life then most likely you won’t know the details of a character’s life. We must be observant.
So, I’m going to do a series of blog posts (we’ll see if I do, ha ha, as I am ever so noncommittal to even myself) on cars, specifically all the cars I have known and loved in my life. And there have been many.
Why, you might ask? Well, it’s twofold.
First, the last year I’ve found myself loving Peter Cheney’s Globe Drive pieces in the Globe & Mail. Always funny ha ha, often funny odd, always informative and speaks to my desire to understand our relationship with these metal vessels which transport us, in which so much of our lives unfold. Or mine. I can’t speak for you although I may, on occassion, try to, with no real success.
So, since moving to the country my life has revolved around vehicles and transportation. Yes, that’s right, good country living turns the most ecologically friendly into a big greenhouse gas-emitting maniac. Ah, the gentle walks, the meandering bike rides. Ha ha ha, unless you are unemployed or living on an inheritance and can lounge about your country retreat, you have to freaking drive EVERYWHERE TO GET ALMOST NOWHERE. It’s the biggest contradiction – so close to nature and yet roaring upon it. We become hypocrites, living our lovely and gentle rural lives, then hopping in the car to get everywhere. So much for the village. And so much for walking. But I’m not here to feel guilty or make you feel guilty, if you are a country dweller. We make up for our hypocritical polluting in other ways. Ha ha ha. Really. We do. Sort of. Maybe. (Okay, not really).
And secondly, I don’t have a car anymore. It was sudden, the absence of a vehicle. Okay, I do have cars but none of them are mine. It’s complicated. My car will come, the Highway willing, at a mysterious time in November and I’ll do the big reveal at that point, for all five of my blog readers.
It’s been the strangest time. Living in these parts, people take having a car for granted, just like most people take their legs for granted. I still might take vehicles for granted but not the kindness of friends (and strangers) who have helped me. I thought it would be fitting to pay tribute to the cars (and their owners) that keep appearing in my driveway, to profile car and owner.
But before I can do that, I want to do some posts on my previous relationship with cars. I’m back to where I was when I was in university, avowing to never have a car, to be saddled with a vehicle, which is demanding as a dog, and which weights on the soul of one who can barely tend to a houseplant.
I have found myself without a car through an odd and unforeseen set of events this year. And so it’s has me focused on my relationship with cars, in fact, the cars of my past, what they say about me, what they said to me, why I was in them in the first place.
Look, I’m not handy. In fact, I will be honest — I’m afraid of cars, simply terrified by that which lies inside the metal. Opening up the hood of the engine horrifies me. It’s not supposed to have so many parts, so much liquid, fluids, pulsing, whirrings, beatings. It’s just supposed to go. It’s supposed to be sleek and hard, its inner workings a mystery, just like a man. With that hood up, boy, it’s like the car is freaking alive and that is really horrifying. I just want it to go without me knowing just how it actually goes. Just like life. I want life to unfold without me thinking too much about the whys and wherefores of the unfolding–how the past creates present, present creates future, what goes around comes around and all of that existential stuff that makes my brain ache…auggugghg. I just want to live. Without thinking too much. It’s like electricity. I just want to flip a switch. I don’t want to understand wires and currents. I just want the big sparkly light.
Electricians are like magicians to me and we all need a little magic, right? And mechanics are wizardly. In fact, I think they should have tall sparkly caps. They do remarkable things with silver tools. But I don’t want to know how it is they fiddle and tweak and pat and stroke and make it purr and hum.
So, car focused but car-less, I give you, not in any particular order, the cars of my life. We’ll start with the first car I owned, or rather co-owned, with another writer, Lynn Coady. We were both doing MFAs at the University of British Columbia. Now, as we discussed in Home Turf on Bookninja (for those still hanging on for literary musings) we are both from Nova Scotia, Lynn from small town industrial Cape Breton and me from rural agrarian Annapolis Valley. Back in them olden days, we were both poor students and walked or bussed everywhere. We felt stigmatized. We wanted fancy wheels. And we felt we were losing hours and hours of our lives walking, waiting. You do get tired of people watching and the romance of the bus falls away. And not that we didn’t appreciate the grandeur of Vancouver, the soaring mountains, the beaches and the coffee Mecca of late 1990s Vancouver, things the slow commuter could really savour. But we got tired of the stupid slow savour.
I was staying with a friend in a ginormous house at the time and a filthy rich Swiss homestay student also lived there. He was about to return to the Alps (he lived in Zurich, I just want everyone to live like Heidi) and wanted to off load his “student car”. He and a crazy affluent Brazilian tax lawyer owned it. They had bought it for 600 bucks from a previous set of foreign students.
Now being from Nova Scotia and feeling like we were perpetually living out Goin’ Down the Road (where Toronto had been replaced with Vancouver) I can see why we seemed foreign to these men who wanted $500 for it. Seeing our dismay at so high a price, they quickly dropped to $300–$150 each and we had wheels, man! Our very own 1984 Mercury Ford Capri.
Now I can’t find a picture of the actual car (because I just moved and life is tucked safely in boxes) but imagine this silver, with red vinyl interior and a whack of chrome, chrome, chrome. That was our car.
It would only start in the morning if it was parked facing down on a hill and we went to the gas station regularly to get, not gas but oil as they engine liked to burn it. But we were free, gloriously free. Sort of. Lynn didn’t have a driver’s licence. (Maybe she did but it expired? I’ll try to find that out.) Anyway, we had this “retro car” that a kindly mechanic told us was driveworthy for a time. He said it wouldn’t explode but would just stop one day. It was sporty in a meek kind of way. That was fine; the impoverished and downtrodden can really only hope to be sporty in a meek way.
And at first, despite the complicated night-time parking and the oil burning and the time spent endlessly filling up on oil, it was freedom. We learned to just turn up the radio if the engine sounded funny. And then there was the day a piece of the engine fell off. We shoved in the glove compartment and hoped for the best. No more waiting for buses, no more walking, we had arrived.
But it didn’t take long to discover the teensy narrow Vancouver roads not built for heavy traffic. We were constantly in dense lines of traffic, beside expensive cars driven by people wearing sunglasses that cost as much as ours. We spent hours in traffic, hours looking for parking. Suddenly biking, walking and bussing didn’t seem so bad. Oh, so quickly our cool mobile became yet another prison. Around this time life was taking me to Northern Ireland (for another blog post) and I left the car with Lynn. The last time I saw it, it was parked in front of her apartment building and all the oil in the world would not make it budge. I forget now, all these years later, if she sold it to a movie to explode (that was a popular way of off loading beaters) or if she gave it to a charity to rebuild and give to a family in need.
I just know I got an email in Northern Ireland telling me the Mercury Ford Capri was gone, the silver angel that became reluctant and cast off its wings on Alma Street, most likely blown to so many shiny bits. That is sometimes just how it goes, our past exploding into so many glittery pieces…
Next up: The black 1982 Toyota pick up truck.